New Picture Link!!

17 08 2008

Alright, friends, the pictures have officially been moved to Picasa, and the new link is

http://picasaweb.google.com/vermont.mafia

I’m still working on captioning, but hopefully you know who’s who by now…it’s only the mountains that need to be identified.  If you look closely, you might find a video or two too!





Flamebo Searches for the Rainbow

17 08 2008

I used to love rain. Freshman year of college, I remember making a “Rain Songs” playlist on my big Dell desktop that included (among other fab tunes) “Let it Rain” by Michael W. Smith, “When the Rain Comes” by Third Day, and “Bring on the Rain” by Jo Dee Messina (these say a lot about who I was freshman year). At Middlebury, I often went outside when it rained. I loved how rain was God’s way of sympathizing with tears, and the more drenched I was, the better I felt. I had happy rain memories from my summer at Camp Greystone, too, where evening downpours would beat on the tin cabin roof so hard that we’d have to shout over it to be heard giving the devotion and saying goodnight to the girls. Then during my Mission Year in Camden, I took advantage of the rain to go puddle-jumping or just sit on the porch with a cup of tea and talk or think. On the Fourth of July that year, we went to a big outdoor concert without our rain gear and got dumped on for hours. We stayed through the fireworks, though, and then trekked the two miles home singing all the way, the rain never letting up.

This isn’t to say that I never encountered the proverbial “rainy day” in a negative sense. At Camp Illini, a day camp I attended around the age of 8 or 9, the end-of-session campout was the most-anticipated night of the summer. After a long, wet and sleepless night, I remember being shuffled out of our tents and into a picnic shelter, where the counselors held up soggy lost and found items: a lone sock, a pair of underwear, a Barbie…another rough rain moment for me was during my semester in Belize. Though I was there during the dry season, we did have a week or two of rain in which I first experienced the sensation of never really being totally warm or dry. Buildings are not sealed off to the elements, there are no hot showers, and if you walk to work in the rain, you are wet all day. Rain in Juarez, Mexico, another place I’ve felt a connection to over the years, is rare and dangerous. Even the smallest amount of rain floods out streets and homes, and people are often killed. So my love for rain was always framed by a great respect: it was beautiful but powerful, and certainly outside of my control.

Little did I realize, however, that it’s easy to find affection for rain when you are able to escape it. During the last 35 of our 44 days on the trail, I have not been so lucky, and I now have an entirely new understanding of what it means to be wet. On July 8th, the day we hiked Whitecap Mountain in Maine, my journal entry reads, “Rain! First experience…not too fun.” Ha! What did I know??! Over a month later, the freak weather system that has settled in has never granted us a full day without rain since I wrote those words. We have been stranded twice due to high water making rivers impassable and once due to the risk of hypothermia in the freezing rain. Our clothes and shoes are never dry, and each morning we wake up and are forced to don them, cold and dank. Everything smells like mildew – pack, clothes, tent – and everything is caked in mud. Our packs don’t just feel heavier – the sogginess of our belongings probably adds a good five pounds. We probably risk dehydration, because some days the thought of water just makes you rage. We often walk with frozen fingers and toes, and our constantly running noses must be blown on soaking wet handkerchiefs. When we take off our shoes and socks at night, we (Laura especially) have been known to frighten small children with our “Cling-on feet,” eerily wrinkled and gray. Lizzie can’t see out of her fogged glasses half the time, and there’s never a dry ounce of fabric to be found on which to wipe them. Stopping for lunch loses its charm when it means squeezing grape jelly onto a soggy bagel while sitting in a puddle. Sometimes the AT is an ankle-deep stream, though it’s true that that’s better than the sections of waist-deep mud pits. On cold days, we can’t stop or we’ll freeze, and I’ve never been so desperate for a floor and four walls. Mountaintop views are a treat so rare that the slightest hint of a break in the clouds has everyone stopping, shouting for joy, and madly snapping pictures before the moment passes. Gore-tex is little more than a joke.

A caretaker at one campsite introduced us to the phrase, “No rain, no pain, no Maine,” but even crossing the border into New Hampshire couldn’t put an end to the deluge. Many others have told us, “Well it can’t rain forever, right?” to which we respond with a shrug and return to ringing out our socks. I can think of a number of explanations for the relentlessness of the rain we have faced. The first is Divine Punishment. Perhaps because of their religious skepticism, cold manners, or aggressive driving, God decided to wipe out all of New England in a flood, and he forgot to instruct The Vermont Mafia on how to build an ark. Another possible explanation is Character Building. What doesn’t kill us is said to make us stronger, so my comrades and I are being tested to the extreme. The only problem is that instead of making us tougher, this rain is softening up all our callouses and causing us to get blisters again. Of course another logical justification for 35 straight days of record precipitation is GLOBAL WARMING. This brings us full circle to Divine Punishment (we brought it upon ourselves), so I’m going to settle on some combination of all three reasons as ultimately responsible for the onslaught.

Now I am told that every cloud has a silver lining. Let me then attempt to mine the skies of western Maine and eastern New Hampshire for all they are worth. For one, we have re-learned the beauty of music. When we walked out of the rain into our first White Mountain Hut, Carter Notch, to smell baking pies and hear the banjo twangs of Alison Krauss, I felt comfort warm my soul as it hadn’t in weeks. When we climbed through the window of the Wildcat Mountain Ski Patrol hut to escape the storm and wait out the night, thru-hikers Grizz and Earthworm serenaded us on the ukulele with tunes by Phish and Bob Marley. When we were visited on the trail by Lizzie’s cousin Russ and aunt Jude, Jude’s rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music made the thunder we were hearing sound pitifully weak. In addition to music, I have also learned to appreciate the silver linings of flexibility and faith. As if walking everywhere weren’t enough, the rain has forced us to slow down even more. Doing less miles and not making planned destinations has – in spite of my initial groans – meant extra time with friends and family and more good stories to tell. Finally, every small blessing has taken on greater meaning – the sun, a patch of blue sky, a pair of dry socks, a four-walled structure, a warm drink. Hopefully I won’t take them for granted anytime soon. So, as I sit here taking a respite in my air conditioned kitchen in Illinois as the sun beats down outside, I must admit that one thing can definitely be said for rain: it makes for memories!





Hiking the AT is like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer…

11 08 2008

…It feels so good when you stop.

Shortly after sending my initial notification email to my friends and family, I made the tough decision that it was time for me to get off the trail. I enjoyed the hiking and loved the time I got to spend with other hikers, particularly the VT Mafia, but homesickness got the best of me for the first time in my life. So, after much mulling things over, I bought a plane ticket home from Boston and made plans to leave the girls in Andover, where April would be able to give me a ride to a bus stop.

Unfortunately, the rain that April described cut the trip short, so I didn’t make it to Andover. We hiked to a highway between Rangeley and Oquossoc, and April and I made our way out from there, after wishing FLAMEBO, Beef, and Default the best. April and I ended up driving to Boston together and spending some quality time both in the car and exploring the city. We had a lot of fun, which was nice, because it had been very difficult for me to say goodbye and watch the girls hike off without me.

So I got home late Monday night (7.28), and since then have been struggling to reestablish myself in Denver amid a number of stressful circumstances. Fortunately, before I left for the trail I realized that I want to become a doctor, so I had some plan of action to pick up upon my return. I have been able to register at CU Denver to take General Chemistry I and General Biology I, so I am on my way to fulfilling the premed requirements. I also plan to work about halftime, hopefully in a setting that is related to medicine, such as a research unit of a hospital. If that doesn’t work out, please stop by and visit me at the local Starbucks. I’ll be the one wearing the green apron.

Before I sign off, here’s my AT experience by the numbers:

Miles of AT hiked: 233.1
Moose: 2
Frogs: close to 200
Snakes: 9 or 10
Bald eagles swooping down to catch a fish 20 feet from where we were sitting: 1.
Mosquitos: 10,000
Trail towns: 3
New friends: numerous.
love,

Laura B. (“Siren”)





A Day in the Life

11 08 2008

I had the great privilege and opportunity to spend the day with the Vermont Mafia on Sunday August 10th.

I am Elizabeth’s Aunt, and have witnessed her life adventures with awe and enthusiasm. I was concerned when she said that she wanted to bring an umbrella rather than a raincoat on the AT, and when she was fabricating and lighting a stove made out of the bottom of a soda can and denatured alcohol in my cousin’s driveway the weekend before she left to hike. Fortunately, she has a raincoat now, and uses her friend’s very efficient backpacking stove on the trail.

The delightful thing about this particular adventure of hers is that it began in my own backyard, and not in the remote reaches of the earth (ie. Siberia or Patagonia). I have hiked all the 4000 footers in the White Mountains, and have often walked on the path of the AT in New Hampshire. And so, I was delighted when “The Mafia” had a couple of “zero days” at my cousin Russ’s house last weekend at his home in Tamworth, and I got to spend time with them then, and hear about their adventures and plans. Then Russ masterminded a plan with them so we could join them for a hike one day this weekend.

I don’t know how broadly the topic of the weather has been covered in other parts of this blog, but I want to say for the record that this is the rainiest summer I can remember in my 54 years on this earth. Someone told me that last they heard there were 29 rainy days out of 35, but my memory says it’s is more like 29 rainy days out of 30. And when I say rain, I’m not talking about showers, but at least ½” a day of steady rain, often heavy. The fortitude of these young women to keep going in these conditions shows their true mettle.

I imagine their dreams and planning for this trip for the past year. I know that my niece has dreamed of hiking the AT since she was a child. The reality of constantly wet shoes, slipping and falling, unfordable rivers, trails that look like brooks, sucking mud holes, slippery roots, and no views, is not what was envisioned I’m sure. And yet, these women keep pursuing their dream, despite hardships. And how do they do it? I can only speculate, but I did observe some remarkable things about them. The most striking thing is that they always hike within a few feet of each other. They passed the 350 mile mark today, and every step has been one footstep in each other’s tracks every step of the way. I can’t imagine the bond and commitment to each other that started them out in this way, and keeps them so close. It seems that this rhythm and harmony of movement gives them unspoken support and motivation.

Another thing is that they often hike in silence, which gives them the concentration they need to negotiate the hazards of the trail… and therefore they have their own individual experience of the moment. Because, what is the AT if it’s not challenging yourself to the utmost, and getting to know who you are in adversity and bliss? This hiking of the AT has many challenges, but as my wise cousin Russ said…if it wasn’t the rain, it would be the bugs, or the heat, or something else. Ultimately, it is your relationship to yourself and others that is tested to the bare bones on the AT, and these are the lessons of the trail, no matter what the conditions.

I must admit that I broke the silence on our hike together often, questioning these young women about their lives, and singing with my niece, which is one of my favorite things to do. We sang a repertoire of spirituals, songs from the “Sound of Music”, and Valder-ree, Valder-rah using nursery rhymes as the verses (annoying but fun). Russ met us about 4-5 miles in at the other end of the trail, and we all got to step in harmony together with the Vermont Mafia on their incredible journey.

Aunt Jude





Dejavu, Sweet Dejavu!

8 08 2008

We’re back in Tamworth!  And it’s raining again!  It’s almost my turn in our Scrabble game so this will have to be quick, but the short story is that we reached another impassable river today after yet another horrendous day of rain.  It seems this weather pattern is convinced it shall make 2008 the wettest summer on record.   We are along for the ride, and keep saying to ourselves “It can’t rain forever, can it?”   We’ll be sure and let you know the answer when we find out- so far, it seems it can.

Hopefully the West Branch of the Peabody River will be down tomorrow and we will be able to cross.   A man died after being swept away by it on Tuesday, so we are waiting it out.   If we can proceed, we will be up and over Mt.  Madison tomorrow and Mt. Washington on Saturday.   Rain or shine, we will still be in Middlebury VT on Wednesday for our break and we will write more then.

I have updated the calendar with tentative dates and zipcodes for our next month of trail towns.   We are going to be enjoying frequent towns where we can resupply and get mail every few days.   To let you all know, we currently have an excess of trail food (Thank you Barretts!!!  You’re AMAZING!!!!) and so if you’d like to send us something, here are some ideas:   Brownies.    Cookies.   Muffins.   Chocolate.   Candy Bars.   Puppy Chow.    I would so love some Puppy Chow!     Did I mention Brownies?   I’m sure we will need trail food again by late August, but for now we would love some home baked (or store bought) goodies.  Also, just so you know, it’s a great idea to use one of the Postal Service’s flat rate Priority Boxes when you mail us packages- they usually end up being a lot cheaper.

Okay, back to Scrabble.   We are doing well, and are so thankful to Cousin Russ for his amazing hospitality.   Please send all the sunshiny thoughts you can possibly find our way- we sure do need em!   It would be nice to actually see the White Mountains instead of just climb them in a fog.

– Default





Awesome Cousins of Beef!

4 08 2008

Thanks to Beef’s Dad, I have some pictures here of the girls relaxing in Tamworth with Beef’s relatives. They were met on the trail Saturday by cousin Russ and aunt Judith then driven 30 miles along the White mountains to cousin Russ’s home. They enjoyed the modern day amenities of laundry and showers and some excellent cuisine: Maine blueberry pie from cousin Jim, lobsters from cousin Mary, Maine blueberry pancakes from cousin Russ.

cousins!

cousins!

Too much pizza?

Too much pizza?

Then Sunday they resupplied their moleskin (blister fixer), as they anticipate yet more rain as they will be hiking some of the highest mountains on the AT in the coming days. Default got new boots from EMS and Beef called Merrell to see about her respectively disintegrating footwear. The VT mafia were, I imagine, quite relieved to have a break as they were all water-logged and tired. They dried out their sleeping bags and gear at cousin Charlie’s, who had a wood stove burning throughout the weekend.

resupply!
resupply!
Beef with brother, NateBeef with brother, Nate, who came up from Boston

Also, Beef achieved her first time win on the “Newfoundland Dog” puzzle game. These kinds of games (along with Scrabble) are apparently a part of the mountain culture in New Hampshire. Here she is with her accomplishment!

success!

success!





Pictures: Maine to Gorham, NH

4 08 2008

Greetings from Maria D. on the ground (soon to join the girls on the 16th in Vermont!) I have just received links to two kodakgallery photo albums from the VT mafia. CORRECTION: They made it to Gorham, NH on Saturday and were picked up by Beef’s mother’s cousins and taken to Tamworth, NH for a lovely lobster dinner. Today they are hiking the white mountains and hope to be in Franconia notch for pick up and travel to Middlebury on Wednesday, August 13. They do not expect nor need any mail drops in that time according to Default, and will plan to be in Midd as the calendar says on the 17th. Sorry for any confusion, folks, I was unaware of how they were getting to Tamworth.

Unfortunately, due to limits in technology on their end (a mac that doesn’t support massive picasa uploads), all I have for you is a link to a photo slide show of their exploits thus far.

Here it is: http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=15jfpien.am2tk5r&x=0&y=-iexiwp&localeid=en_US

They ran out of time in town. FLAMEBO reassures me that they have posts in their heads and even on paper that they are ready to add to the blog. So those will be forthcoming.